Have you ever picked up a manga and thought that the very moment you came across it, it arrived at the most perfect time in your life because it “spoke” to you in a way that you could only understand?
I kinda feel that way after reading the first volume of Higashimura Akiko‘s Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Reading the manga left me with a bit of anxiety as if I was staring down into a deep dark wormhole (a.k.a the future) or standing petrified upon a cliff’s edge, anticipating the moment gravity pulls me into it. The manga paints a reality that hits close to home and the fact that it is so utterly relatable and plausible to happen to me is scary yet ironically funny at the same time.
From my experience, there has been a societal expectation in oriental Asian cultures, namely, that women need to get married and should start a family after a particular age (notably, the dirty thirties). In a lot of josei manga I’ve read, it’s a common theme. So much so that this expectation pervades storylines like a doom’s day clock set to explode spontaneously or when you’re a prisoner to a large family dinner and all your relatives want to talk about is how they’re getting older and how they want to see you with a significant other, pushing around a baby carriage carrying your newborn son and/or daughter.
I’m in my twenty-somethings, only a couple years younger than the protagonists, and never dated anyone before. I’ve also never focused on trying to find a significant other because I just didn’t focus on romance. I focused on building my own life, or rather am still trying to figure out how to live it. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t a victim to the age old question: When are you getting a boyfriend?
This manga prompted me with other similar questions that have lurked in the back of my mind: When you finally establish your life as a working adult with a full-time job and your own place, how old will you be? When you didn’t have the confidence or motivation to find someone to share your life with right now, will it be too late by then? When is “then”? How long will it take for me to feel comfortable with myself before I can start a relationship with someone? Am I even worthy of a relationship or getting married?
The protagonists of Tokyo Tarareba Girls are trapped in their thoughts of growing older and their self-doubt, even if they are already thirty-somethings with established lives. The mind can be a pretty depressing place when all you can think about are your shortcomings. Like the saying goes, you can be your best friend or your worst nemesis. It always seems that whenever I feel down, I always think back to my old memories when life seemed easier or I leave myself to daydream and reflect on events that could have been. It’s a safe comfort to linger in something familiar to the point where you’re pitying yourself, however, if you don’t choose to act on rectifying old relationships after recalling how a relationship was once great, then you’re wasting your emotions and time on something that you know you wouldn’t have committed to.
Pushing for marriage because of one’s old age is something I consider as an “old-school” concept but it’s still heralded as an issue by some members of my family. A friend and I spoke about how women are more focused on their careers and stability with their finances and such today rather than twenty or so years ago because times back then were more difficult when our grandparents were our age. Today, there isn’t a rush to getting into a romantic relationship or marriage if you’re not prepared for one. I mean, people are still having children and not all of them are parents in their twenties.
But I can understand why oriental cultures like the Chinese culture are so preoccupied with the idea of starting a family as a contingency plan for the future, as my mom puts it. I’ve thought about it and here’s what I came up with: it’s because traditional family values are important in the Chinese culture. A husband and his wife have so many responsibilities to take care of the husband’s parents and their own children while balancing their jobs and other commitments that they often lack the time that is necessary to take care of themselves. The wife rarely gets the chance to see her birth family because she married into her husband’s family. As a result, her male siblings (if she had any) would be the caretakers of her mother. Sadly, modern-day stories in manga insofar as I’ve seen never go this extra length to be this realistic. The reason why is most likely because the stories would reflect real life too closely and no one wants to be reminded of an ugly truth, even if they see someone else living it.
With this type of idea stuck in the heads of the protagonists, I can’t wait to see how Higashimura makes them grow.
Ever since I picked up Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish and her autobiographical work, Kakukaku Shikajika, I’ve become a fan of hers. One of the reasons why I enjoy her works is how she brings humor to poke fun at the most distressing moments and issues in her stories. Compared to the lighter self-demeaning humor in Princess Jellyfish, Higashimura’s popular shoujo series, she pulls no breaks at being totally savage with Rinko’s imagination in Tokyo Tarareba Girls – Rinko is one of the three protagonists that the manga focuses on primarily in the first volume. No longer do we have sweet Clara the jellyfish as a mascot, what we have instead are animated codfish milt and liver acting as Rinko’s personal devil’s advocates, mocking her during her drunken stupors.
Other reasons why I enjoy reading Higashimura’s work is the sincerity of her characters and how these flawed adults struggle in their diagesis. The best moments in Tokyo Tarareba Girls are the quiet moments of introspection and the bittersweet realization the characters express in internal monologues because these scenes of vulnerability mean more when juxtaposed against the comedy and romance.
So, you can bet while wandering around in the manga section at Indigo and seeing this series finally translated with two volumes on a shelf prompted me to bleed money. I will definitely wait for the next seven volumes to be released in stores.